Bill Clinton Helped Destroy Radio

Chuck D hiphopdx.com Interview

Anyone that has been reading along has seen me mention the latest Public Enemy album, Man Plans God Laughs.  As a lover of albums, I not only like to hear records in full, but when an artist comes out with a new record that I love, I like to hear it in the context of their career.  Often records speak to each other, especially when artist are creating records that have concepts and aren’t just collections of songs.  So as well as checking out Public Enemy’s catalog, I have been reading different interviews with Chuck D, unofficial leader of and main rapper in Public Enemy.  Chuck D is always interesting.  In the above interview there is a segment where the interviewer and Chuck D it is mention how Bill Clinton deregulated radio with his 1996 Telecommunications act.  This is not the focus of the interview, but it is an interesting snippet.  From the interview:

DX: I wanna go back to one additional thing Too Short said. After he put Barry Weiss on blast he went on to say that he believes there was a meeting of the minds amongst the major labels to shut down conscious Hip Hop. Do you believe such a collusion happened, or was it more likely that Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996, that consolidated radio ownership, was the real nail in the coffin to message-driven music?    

Chuck D: Yeah, the latter was the real nail in the coffin – not so much to message-driven music but to local music being able to have a chance to independently breathe. The consolidation of radio stations was like the worst thing ever done to music.

As someone that works in the music industry, I have long known that the consolidation of radio stations by big corporations, Clear Channel (Now known as, I’m not kidding, iHeartMedia.) in particular, has been horrible for the music industry.  There was less artistic diversity than ever before.  One only has to look at the aftermath of 9/11 to understand what can happen.  After 9/11 Clear Channel (iHeartMedia), the largest owner of radio stations in America banned songs that were deemed “sensitive” to listeners.  One of these songs happened to be John Lennon’s Imagine.  This ban was eventually lifted, but one can see this kind of thing happening on a lesser scale all of the time.

So why is this interesting, even if you are someone like me that never listens to the radio?  First you can see how big money can stifle culture.  Art is how ideas can be spread in a way that is accessible, in a way that is entertaining and easy to understand.  Less competition, created by one corporation owning a large percentage of the market, means there is less reason for alternative programming.  Even if a corporation isn’t trying to purposely stop a certain message from getting out, there is less reason to play something new or cutting edge, even if it has a certain following.  Luckily, we now have internet radio and satellite radio, which have helped bring diversity into the market, but a large group of people still listen to regular radio.  What gets played on traditional radio still has an advantage.  Art is extremely important as a form for political discussion, as it connects emotionally.  One only has to look at the 60’s counterculture to understand how art and particularly music can affect people from a political perspective.

There are many reasons that music doesn’t have the political power that it once did, reasons that have to do with technology, culture, education, and economics.  However, I think the above Act is something that greatly contributed.

Also, I find it interesting that it was Clinton that signed the above Act into law.  I have always known that Clinton was a corporate Democrat, but being that I was 18 at the time and not fully formed politically, I never put it together that he was the one that oversaw that law being put into place.  As someone that would consider themselves as being on the left, I think it is extremely important that we condemn those on our side that do not act in the public interest, especially if we are going to be believed when we make political accusations of those that do not in anyway share our values.  Even if I view Hillary Clinton as the far lesser of two evils, when compared to the pack of mutants running for the Republican nomination, we must make sure that she does not repeat the sins of her husband if she were to gain the nomination.  (Who really was far more conservative than most people remember.)  I am hoping that Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, but I have no doubt that I would vote for Clinton over anyone declared for the right at the current moment.

So I think it is important to see how big money can corrupt culture, as a concrete example.  It is important to acknowledge how art influences our culture.  Remember, the whole reason that I am writing about this subject is because I was reading an interview with a musician.  I also think it is important, for those interested in politics, to stay vigilant especially when someone on “one’s side” is in political power, as it is much easier to be lulled into complacency.

It’s late on a Saturday and already I feel that I am rambling a bit in this post, but there is just one other thing I want to mention.  (But believe me, I actually feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg in talking about the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the deregulation of media in general.)

Just as a playful what if, I want you to imagine a world where subversive art and other media voices did not face so many restrictions in communicating on mass.  If more voices were heard, would tragedies such as the Iraq War have been averted or at least not carried out with such zeal?  (Not only did Clinton help to deregulate the media, but Ronald Reagan also contributed greatly to media deregulation.)

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Rites of Spring and the Political Without Politics

Music can be political without being expressly political.  Sometimes the sheer vitality of it can be a force for change.  It can shake you, wake you up, make you want to do something different than you were doing before you heard it.  This has definitely been true, from even the earliest moments, of rock n roll.  Once rock n roll was unleashed it couldn’t help but have an affect on race relations, sexual mores, youth culture, and so on, just because of where it came from and the sheer energy involved, even before it dealt with any of those things in an explicit way.

I’ve mentioned lately that I have been diving into the punk, post-punk, and hardcore bands of the 80’s Washington D.C. scene. Rites of Spring, which featured members that went on to join Fugazi, among other bands, were different from many of the acts of even that time period.  Their songs were more melodic and their lyrics were more personal in nature, despite channeling the energy of punk and hardcore.  Their lyrics also have a more poetic and interpretive nature than many of their peers.  Although I grew up listening to all of the Ian MacKaye bands, MacKaye is a founder of Dischord Records and also went on to be a member of Fugazi, I had never heard Rites of Spring until recently.  But listening to their music, one can’t help but feel that something is going on.  It possesses a feeling of dissatisfaction, but not of hopelessness.  It sounds like people striving to reach someplace new.  It is full of passion and self-discovery.  Singer and guitar player Guy Picciotto sounds fully committed.  Even if none of these things translate into any particular political cause, this is the sound of people becoming engaged with the world.  And engagement is the most important ingredient in any kind of social change.

Inside Most Intense Public Enemy Record of the Century – New Record ‘Man Plans, God Laughs’

Inside Most Intense Public Enemy Record of the Century

As I looked quickly at the headlines over at Rolling Stone today, I was shocked and extremely psyched to see that Public Enemy is releasing a new album…this week!  The album is titled Man Plans, God Laughs.  They are one of the greatest groups of all time in any genre, and if they weren’t so intensely political, I believe their profile would be even higher here in the states than it has been in recent years.  Their last two albums, Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamps and The Evil Empire of Everything, both released in 2012, were both jaw dropping and worth checking out if you have checked the group out in awhile.  (I would definitely get both records as they both feature different sonic textures, yet compliment each other really well from a musical perspective.  If you love the group or just love exciting and intense music, you can’t go wrong.)  The above video is one of the official singles from Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamps.

Rod Stewart – Love Is

I can already imagine the endless grief I will get for posting this from certain band mates and some camps that think themselves too hip for Stewart’s charms.  But I fucking love his shit anyway.  There’s no doubt that the early solo years and Faces period can never be equaled.  (Those years set a bar that most musicians, period, will never equal.  And pretty much every musician I know loves this era of records.)  But as long as Rod is singing something that has a hint of rock n roll in it, something that makes you cry in your drink, or that you can imagine him kicking a soccer ball to in a stadium, I am in.  Really, except for his American Songbook dreck, and his other recent covers albums, I pretty much like everything.  (The American Songbook stuff is one of the few times even I will say he went a bridge too far.)  It’s not only his voice, but the fact that he seemingly throws himself in with total enthusiasm, even to things that other musicians wouldn’t try, and possibly shouldn’t.  But I feel he can get away with it, as he has an exuberance that is equaled by few.  This song would be filed under his quasi-celtic soccer stadium anthems, but it’s good fun, and most of all emotional sounding.  At the end of the day the first rule of music should be that it is emotional.  Rod rarely fails to deliver on those terms, no matter how overly professional his backing band sounds.  About eleven or twelve years ago I went to see him live and I was sure I was going to be witnessing a cash grab, but he ended up having the entire audience, all ages, on their feet for the entire night.  Not only is he a first-rate interpreter, he is also a really underrated songwriter when he decides to pick up the guitar and pen.  Too often his celebrity has overshadowed his very real talents, and his best song lyrics display a great wit, that is equal at conveying sadness and humor.  At this stage Never a Dull Moment is probably my favorite record of his.  If you doubt Stewart’s talents, but love rock n roll in the slightest, check it out.  There are many reasons that I love many kinds of music, but rarely has someone made me smile as much as Rod Stewart.  For that reason alone I would feel ashamed of myself for not sticking with him.  So there:  I love Rod Stewart.  What are you going to do about it?

More Thoughts On Get in the Van by Henry Rollins

I am watching Sons of Anarchy tonight and I just came across the episode where musician and actor Henry Rollins enters playing a white supremacist.  One of my favorite reads of recent years is Rollins’s Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag.  Now many of you might assume that I love this book because it documents touring and music, because I am a touring musician.  However, trust me, one of the last things I would want to read while being in a van for eight hours is a book on touring in a van.  There is a darkly comic, vulgar insanity to the prose.  It was written as diary entries, that at least seem to be written without publishing in mind.  Many of the things said in the book are the kinds of things people think, but would never admit to the outside world.  Because of this there is also a strange truth to the book, even if it is not an enlightening one.  In the Leonard Cohen song Going Home, Cohen sings what is a great description of the endgame of art :

I want to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

At the time I was reading Rollins’s book I was going through a slightly dark period.  I loved Rollins’s ability to keep moving forward even in the face of constant defeats.  Rollins goes on horribly crushing tours, only to spend his time between them living in a shed with no AC, with only spiders as his company.  Yet despite this he still keeps going further and further out into the wilderness of the self, writing and self-realizing.  It’s like a self help book written by a complete masochist.  I don’t know if the book is inspiring or a darkly absurd comedy, but that its true charm, the straddling of seemingly disparate genres.

Samhain, Mystery, Imagination

I’m a big fan of the early 80’s punk/post punk/hardcore scene.  The Misfits were always one of my favorite punk bands.  Samhain, the band that Glenn Danzig formed between The Misfits and Danzig (Which I also like), is a really interesting band.  They are neither quite punk, nor metal.  The playing is much more primitive than what would come, but is more experimental and strange than the horror punk of The Misfits.  It has a gothic ambience to it, despite the underlying aggression which has always been a part of Danzig’s sound.

I have been listening to the first Samhain album Initium.  I love it, especially the closing track Archangel.  I think what is interesting about it, even if you aren’t into this band or even particular style of music, is how well it has aged, especially the fact that the recording is very lo-fi and primitive even for its time.  In fact I would argue that the lack of fidelity ads to this records appeal.  It creates a sense of mystery, like you are hearing something that you weren’t supposed to.  It allows the imagination to fill in the missing gaps.  Nothing is more important to a piece of work than the imagination of the listener, viewer, observer, or whatever, depending on the form of art that is being taken in.  When you read a book the imagination is creating the images, which are just words on a page, and that is very powerful.  One of the reason old recordings form the 50’s and 60’s have stayed relevant, and not just because they feature great musicianship and performance, is because the technology of the time made a certain amount of mystery inherent in the work.  When you listen to a Phil Spector produced record, there are so many instruments being recorded, that it is hard to tell exactly what is in the room.  So you have the musicians and what they are performing, but then you have an added element of mystery, of there being something other present, when those recordings play.  Whether the mystery inherent in the above Samhain recording was intentional or the result of having no budget, I would bet on a little of both, it has that unexplainable quality to it, where it is a puzzle that can never be completely deciphered.  The fact that Glenn Danzig was trying to create a horror vibe in his music is enhanced by this mysteriousness.  Think about when you watch a horror movie; Often you are more creeped out before you see the monster, when you are still imagining how horrible it could be.  Sometimes modern horror movies will use grainy footage of something to add to their terror.  I think this is for the same purpose.  As all things more and more towards high definition and sonic clarity, realize that perfection of image and sound can also cause something to be lost along the way.  The best filmmakers, musicians, artists, will find ways to adapt, to use new technology to get the same emotional quality as the old, but I think realizing that mystery is an important quality in art is an important step.